Sex and contraception

In her latest entry Josephine explains Roman Catholic thinking on sex and contraception

For most of history, few women had the chance of studying and using their education in the public sphere. In fact, for most of history, very few men had the chance of studying either. In the Western world, and elsewhere, women have the same opportunities as men. Without such opportunities, I would not be writing this now!

Yet women and men, feel the overwhelming importance of committed love and the children that are the product of this love. Totalitarian and secular governments often seek to treat women in the work-force as if they were men and as if their inherent value lay in the world of paid employment. They down-grade the importance of marriage, which is the gift of one man to one woman and one woman to one man. When you present a gift to someone, you cannot take it back! Therefore the Catholic Church defends marriage and underlines the equality of woman and man in that state.

Sex, in Christian understanding, is for ‘bonding and babies,’ just as food is for nourishment and sleep is for rest.

Because one cannot take back the gift of self that one has given to husband or wife in marrying, the Catholic Church holds that marriage cannot be dissolved. This teaching goes back to that of Christ in the gospel of Matthew, when he said that a man who ‘divorces his wife … and marries another, is guilty of adultery.’ (Mt.19) and in Mark, Ch 10, Jesus adds ‘And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she is guilty of adultery too.’

It is becoming increasingly evident that marriage provides the stability that human beings crave, whether adults or children but especially the latter. Emotional security is so important to children that it needs to include both parents, though many single parents are heroically successful in bringing up their children. Separation because of cruelty of one sort or another is a different matter.


Because marriage is the place for active sexual love, marriage is the place for the gift of self to the other. Barriers are out of place. Contraceptives are essentially barriers between the self-giving of the two. That does not mean that the couple cannot decide the number of their children they would like to have, on the basis of their health, their energy, and their finances. The woman’s body has indicators that show the few hours in each cycle when she can conceive and she and her husband can choose to abstain from sex for about seven days in each month. Not easy, perhaps, but better than condoms, which, however perfect in the factory, can tear and slip in use. Better than the pill, which can produce many and varied unwanted side effects. Because of failures and difficulties with contraceptives, abortions become an acceptable back-up – abortions take female life in the womb (as well as male). With goodwill, natural fertility management, on the other hand, brings the couple closer together, each having the same responsibility for their family.

In February this year, the FPA, formerly the Family Planning Association, an organisation not known for sympathetic understanding of Roman Catholic teaching, published a report which found that natural family planning is as effective as the contraceptive pill, long seen as the benchmark of fertility control. (Daily Telegraph 21.2.07)

The condom is considered to have a failure rate in practice of about 15%. In the case of AIDS infection, that would equate to a terrible risk.

Josephine Robinson studied at Oxford before working as an actress until she married and had children. She has worked for various Christian and pro-life charities and is author three books and numerous articles.
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If the SNP truly want another referendum, the clock is ticking

At party conference in Glasgow, I heard Scotland’s governing party demand a future distinctly different from the one being sketched out in Westminster. 

Nicola Sturgeon described Glasgow as the “dear green city” in her opening address to the SNP party conference, which may surprise anyone raised on a diet of Ken Loach films. In fact, if you’re a fan of faded grandeur and nostalgic parks, there are few places to beat it. My morning walk to conference took me past chipped sandstone tenements, over a bridge across the mysterious, twisting River Kelvin, and through a long avenue of autumnal trees in Kelvingrove Park. In the evenings, the skyline bristled with Victorian Gothic university buildings and church spires, and the hipster bars turned on their lights.

In between these two walks, I heard Scotland’s governing party demand a future distinctly different from the one being sketched out in Westminster. Glasgow’s claim to being the UK’s second city expired long ago but I wonder if, post-Brexit, there might be a case for reviving it.



Scottish politics may never have looked more interesting, but at least one Glasgow taxi driver is already over it. All he hears in the back of his cab is “politics, fitba and religion”, he complained when he picked me up from the station. The message didn’t seem to have reached SNP delegates at the conference centre on the Clyde, who cheered any mention of another referendum.

The First Minister, though, seems to have sensed the nation’s weariness. Support for independence has fallen from 47 per cent in June (Survation) to 39 per cent in October (BMG Research). Sturgeon made headlines with the announcement of a draft referendum bill, but read her speeches carefully and nothing is off the table. SNP politicians made the same demands again and again – devolved control of immigration and access to the single market. None ruled out these happening while remaining in the UK.

If Sturgeon does want a soft Brexit deal, though, she must secure it fast. Most experts agree that it would be far easier for an independent Scotland to inherit Britain’s EU membership than for it to reapply. Once Article 50 is triggered, the SNP will be in a race against the clock.


The hare and the tortoise

If anyone is still in doubt about the SNP’s position, look who won the deputy leadership race. Angus Robertson, the gradualist leader of the party in the Commons, saw off a referendum-minded challenger, Tommy Sheppard, with 52.5 per cent of the vote.

Conference would be nothing without an independence rally, and on the final day supporters gathered for one outside. A stall sold “Indyref 2” T-shirts but the grass-roots members I spoke to were patient, at least for now. William Prowse, resplendent in a kilt and a waistcoat covered in pro-indy
badges, remains supportive of Sturgeon. “The reason she has not called an Indy 2 vote
is we need to have the right numbers,” he told me. “She’s playing the right game.”

Jordi McArthur, a member for 30 years, stood nearby waving a flagpole with the Scottish, Welsh and Catalan flags side by side. “We’re happy to wait until we know what is happening with Brexit,” he said. “But at the same time, we want a referendum. It won’t be Nicola’s choice. It will be the grass roots’ choice.”


No Gerrymandering

Party leaders may come and go, but SNP members can rely on one thing at conference – the stage invasions of the pensioner Gerry Fisher. A legendary dissenter, Fisher refused this year to play along with the party’s embrace of the EU. Clutching the
lectern stubbornly, he told members: “Don’t tell me that you can be independent and a member of the EU. It’s factually rubbish.” In the press room, where conference proceedings were shown unrelentingly on a big screen, hacks stopped what they were doing to cheer him on.


Back to black

No SNP conference would be complete without a glimpse of Mhairi Black, the straight-talking slayer of Douglas Alexander and Westminster’s Baby of the House. She is a celebrity among my millennial friends – a video of her maiden Commons speech has been watched more than 700,000 times – and her relative silence in recent months is making them anxious.

I was determined to track her down, so I set my alarm for an unearthly hour and joined a queue of middle-aged women at an early-morning fringe event. The SNP has taken up the cause of the Waspi (Women Against State Pension Inequality) campaign, run by a group of women born in the 1950s whose retirement age has been delayed and are demanding compensation. Black, who is 22, has become their most ­articulate spokeswoman.

The event started but her chair remained unfilled. When she did arrive, halfway through the session, it was straight from the airport. She gave a rip-roaring speech that momentarily convinced even Waspi sceptics like me, and then dashed off to her next appointment.


Family stories

Woven through the SNP conference was an argument about the benefits of immigration (currently controlled by Westminster). This culminated in an appearance by the Brain family, whose attempt to resist deportation back to Australia has made them a national cause célèbre. (Their young son has learned to speak Gaelic.) Yet for me, the most emotional moment of the conference was when another family, the Chhokars, stepped on stage. Surjit Singh Chhokar was murdered in 1998, but it took 17 years of campaigning and a change in double jeopardy laws before his killer could be brought to justice.

As Aamer Anwar, the family’s solicitor, told the story of “Scotland’s Stephen Lawrence”, Chhokar’s mother and sister stood listening silently, still stricken with grief. After he finished, the delegates gave the family a standing ovation.

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, the New Statesman’s politics blog

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood